CLARY SAGE PRODUCTION IN THE SOUTHEASTERN UNITED STATES
by: John C. Leffingwell, John W. Stallings, Franklin O. Sellers, Robert A. Lloyd and Franklin C. Kane, Jr.
R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27102
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea L.) production has long been extremely important for use in both
perfumery and flavoring(1). The aromatic portion of Clary Sage originates in the flowering top and foliage
portion of this tall perennial botanical. Depending on climatic and soil conditions, Clary Sage plantings
are treated as annuals or are carried over for several years with the summer harvest season in any given
area being limited to about three to six weeks(2). Although a second cutting of Clary Sage can sometimes
be achieved in late fall, the oil or concrete obtained from processing the second overcut is usually inferior
in both yield and quality since the plant rarely has time to recover to full maturity before, winter arrives.
Mature Clary sage plant (White Variety)
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Mature Clary sage plant (Pink Variety)
The oil of Clary Sage is valued by perfumers for use in conjunction with Lavendin, Lavender, and
Bergamot and is now also used extensively in trace quantities for rounding off the aroma of perfume oils
containing quality synthetic linalool and linalyl acetate chemicals produced either from the Roche
acetylenic route or the Glidden pinene process. It is used In Oriental perfume creations and "tabac" type
fragrances and possesses real value in the so-called "Herbal" compounds.
Clary Sage oil is considered by many perfumers as possessing a characteristic note of sexuality so
indispensable in the most expensive perfume creations.
Although only a relatively small quantity of the Oil of Clary Sage is used on the flavoring side, it
is .well known that certain European wines and liqueurs (Rhine types and vermouths, for example) owe
their characteristic individuality to the trace addition of this essential oil. In fact, the German name for
this oil (Muskateller Salbeiol) is literally translated as "muscatel sage oil"(3).
The tobacco-like dry out note of this oil, which is of so much value in perfumery, is also very
interesting in the highly specialized tobacco flavor field(4).
Historically, Clary Sage appears to have its origin in the countries bordering the northern
Mediterranean Sea(1). In the last forty years, this plant has been commercially cultivated in France, Russia,
Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy, Morocco, Romania, England, and Yugoslavia. In the 1950's a serious attempt
was made in the far western peppermint growing areas of Oregon and Washington in the United States,
but these efforts met with little success. Today, only the south of France and the Crimean and Caucasus
districts of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic bordering the Black Sea represent a major factor in the
world production of Clary Sage.
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Over ten years ago, R. J. Reynolds undertook a program of adapting the cultivation of Clary Sage
and other essential oil bearing crops to the rich and fertile coastal plain near the old, and historically
important, town of Edenton which was the capital of the original British Royal Crown Colony of North
View of Facility from Albemarle Sound
Our Avoca plantation, which is located at the western end of Albemarle Sound in Bertie County,
is situated in an area where the altitude and climatic conditions contrast sharply with the higher and dryer
regions such as are found in the Departments of Var, Basses-Alpes, Drome, etc. in the South of France.
Because of this, an extensive agronomy program was required to adapt and select strains of Salvia sclarea
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L. which would produce good yields both of the essential oil and of Clary Sage Concrete - not only from
an economic viewpoint, but just as important, from the standpoint of quality.
Experimental Clary Sage Plots
In order to provide you with an idea of our Clary Sage plantings, these aerial photographs of
some of our sage fields present a colorful picture of the plantation fields just prior to harvesting.
An Aerial View of the Sage Fields
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Another Aerial View of the Sage Fields
The foreign production of Sage and other essential oils is usually carried out on plant material
grown by local farmers, which is cut, allowed to air dry, and then hauled to central distilling centers
where it is placed into large stationary stills for steam distillation.
The plant material is ordinarily suspended in the body of the still on top of a large perforated
grate to which chains are attached. The top of the still is then fixed in place and distillation is begun with
low pressure steam(5). Following distillation, the spent plant material may be removed with a hoist, for
Our initial experiments were conducted in a similar, but considerably smaller system simply
constructed fiom a 55 gallon stainless steel drum. This portable field still followed a design kindly
provided by Professor C. W. Shoppee and is modeled after a unit he has used in investigations of various
indigenous oil bearing plants in the "outback" of Australia and New Zealand.
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Experimental Distillation Apparatus
Experimental Distillation Apparatus in Operation
Upon successful completion of our agronomic program, we evaluated the various possible
commercial methods for essential oil production. From the beginning, we felt that the use of fixed,
permanent, single batch stationary stills was inefficient for large scale production. Therefore, we
investigated both distillation through a continuous horizontal screw conveyor steam distillation system
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(similar to the type which has been reported to be successful in the USSR), and the portable truck
distillation system which is currently in widespread use for the production of peppermint and spearmint
oils in the northwest United States(6). Although both distillation systems possess considerable merit, we
now feel that the efficiency of the portable truck system is best suited to our operation in that it allows us
greater flexibility for expansion of oil production. Since 1971, when we first produced commercial
quantities of Clary Sage oil of sage, we have been increasing our oil production at a rate of more than
400% per year and expect within the next few years to be able to supply reasonable quantities of North
Carolina (Avoca) Clary Sage oil which may be required by the trade.
Mechanical Harvesting of Clary Sage
Mechanical Harvesting of Clary Sage into Distillation Bin
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Delivering Truck to the Distillation Unit
Docking a Truck Bin to the Distillation Unit
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Truck Bins at Distillation Units
Frank Kane taking Clary Sage Oil Sample for Q.C.
The physical and organoleptic characteristics of our oil are more similar to those of Russian Clary
Sage than French.
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Comparison of Three Sources of Clary Sage Oil
This is best illustrated by examination of typical gas chromatograms (temperature programmed
on a Carbowax 20M column) from samples of our Avoca oil compared to those of authentic samples of
French and Russian oils . These chromatographic profiles which were obtained from our quality control
laboratory provide clues that the major variations between types of Clary Sage oils occur primarily in the
terpenoid and sesquiterpenoid portions with higher retention times. The slight variations in the low
boiling monoterpene hydrocarbon fractions are probably indicative only of the age of cut Sage before it is
processed. Organoleptically, this is of less importance to oil quality.
Examination of a series of authentic Clary Sage oils, obtained at our facility, and from France and
Russia, by glass capillary gas chromatography-mass spectrometry allowed us to rapidly identify more
than 94% by weight of all eluting volatile components. The twenty-six components pinpointed in this
chromatogram are listed in the following table along with the identification method and source oil
analyzed. It should be pointed out that, in addition to these few components, Dr. R. A. Lloyd of our
laboratory estimates that the total number of trace volatile constituents may exceed 300.
The structural relationships between the monoterpenes present are all rather obvious to terpene
chemists, and no particular surprises are found in the reported constituents. The monoterpene ratios
observed from sample to sample and source to source are somewhat a variable of the steam distillation
process and, at least to some degree, are a result of this processing. For exam